On my first day in graduate school back in 2013, one of my professors asked my cohort what we wanted to do with our degree. My answer was to work internationally; somehow invoking change in how mental health systems worked. My work experience at a residential recovery center years prior had left me feeling that our general systems were broken. I also hated the stigma associated with mental health. In my own experience, therapy had made my life tremendously better. Why wouldn’t most people want to engage in something that positively impacts their life experience and/or helps to heal old emotional wounds or unresolved issues in a way that causes great change in how one responds to life?
Fast forward to 2021 and life feels very surreal. I had no idea this would be the way my intention set in 2013 would manifest, but here we are. I have no doubt that this will probably be the most challenging job I have had up to this point. I am set to start at a men’s prison on the south island later in the month. When I first interviewed for this position in March of 2020, it was to be a part of a pilot project aimed to create a program designed to help prisoners who experienced suicidal thoughts/intent or displayed self-harm. Currently there is a gap in care for this population, so when efficacy is established with this program, they will roll out the program to other prisons in the country. Now it is no longer a pilot program and I am joining the interdisciplinary team on the project to continue this task. I was told New Zealand as a whole is reforming mental health and addiction treatment within the Department of Corrections (and possibly the country at large) and I am thrilled to be a small part of this change.
Preparing to leave life in one country and move to another is no small task. Between the years of 2013 and 2021, I have moved 7 times. A lot of this was grad school related, and I bounced around a bit in Tulsa as my job continued to change. All of that to say, with each move I whittled things down and hesitated to buy “permanent” things until I found a spot to establish roots. This made it easier to make the decision about what could fit in my three checked bags, what would have to be sold, and what I would ask my father to store at his house. We looked at shipping things, but the price was so expensive with no guarantee the shipment wouldn’t be lost or broken; we decided starting out fresh made the most sense. It was a bit chaotic at times, but things fell into place.
The other hard part about leaving is all the goodbyes. I am grateful to have a lot of really beautiful people in my life. After my job was final, we began the “goodbye tour” of visiting friends and family all over the country. I had to re-home my beloved dog because she was too old to make the move. Leaving has been this bitter sweet process of watching my current relationships change forms, while opening up to the unknown things and people that will fill my life in a new place. By the time September rolled around, I was pretty exhausted.
The flight itself was relatively painless. We boarded LA at 10pm and arrived in Auckland 12 hours later. I slept through most of it and felt rested the next morning when we arrived. MIQ (managed isolation) are hotels designated by the government to host all people arriving at the border for two weeks before releasing them into the general public. Hotels are all over the country and you do not know where you will be sent until you arrive. We got lucky and wound up at a really nice hotel downtown Auckland. We are on day 7 of 14 today and it hasn’t been that bad. We get three chef prepared (and delicious) meals delivered to our door each day, and 30 minutes of walking time outdoors in designated areas. The rest of the time is up to us.
We each had a large list of tasks to do when we arrived here. Given the chaos of being ready to move over, I am grateful for the time to rest and relax before the real task of creating our new life begins. I packed a yoga mat and weights in my bag, and we have tried to establish some form of structure. Every morning we do yoga, and in the afternoon some form of exercise. Last night we got our first bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir and learned to dance the Foxy (a blend of fox trot and the waltz). While I don’t know that I would ever intentionally choose to stay inside my hotel for two weeks in a cool new city, so far things feel pretty good. I look forward to our transition to Christchurch next week.
This is our hotel, view from the desk in our room, and view from the rooftop terrace where we can walk for 30 minutes.